12th Man Movie Review: A sparkling Mohanlal rescues a languishing murder mystery

12th Man Movie Review: The novelty, therefore, lies in the solid tissue that binds together a cohesive cinematic thrust to the very last frame and the film works in most parts in this regard.

Updated on May 21, 2022 01:50 PM IST  |  682.9K
12th Man Movie Review
12th Man Movie Review: A sparkling Mohanlal rescues a languishing murder mystery

Title: 12th Man

Movie Director: Jeethu Joseph

Star Cast: Mohanlal, Unni Mukundan , Shivada , Anusree , Anu Mohan and others.

Streaming Platform: Disney Hotstar

Rating: 3.5/5

Review by: Arjun Menon


The film reiterates a pulpy, mainstream version of the inquisitive detective story with some minor storytelling flourishes that may or may not work based on the value judgments that one associate with this sub-genre of popular entertainment, only that this is harmless in its appeal yet lacklustre in its ideas.

After the sensational success of last year’s streaming blockbuster Dhrishyam 2, we get yet another thriller from Jeethu Joseph with Mohanlal reprising the leading man role with the new Disney Hotstar release, 12th Man. There are a few directors whose name gets associated with a particular genre of filmmaking that it becomes almost a part of their directorial personality and oh boy does Jeethu Joseph love his murder mysteries and it shows! 12th Man is a self-contained Agatha Christisqe iteration of the post-pandemic single-location thriller, loyal to its storytelling foundations. We get a crime mystery that happens within confined surroundings in the course of a single night, with eleven possible suspects and one truth seeker willing to go the extra mile to illicit the mystery is hidden under a tired and frantic night of revelations and setbacks.

The movie is pretty much routine in its setup where we get a group of friends getting together in an isolated resort in a hill station to celebrate the oncoming wedding of their last remaining bachelor and as per cinematic traditions, all hells break loose and the supposedly cozy evening turns sour and escalates into a series of mishaps and misunderstandings. The screenplay takes considerable time in the opening act to brush up the viewer on the almost ensemble character bios and backstories and this is the part where the movie puts you off instantly, with the clumsy dialogue writing and non-inventive visual flourishes. 

The debutant writer Krishna Kumar comes up with some of the worst stagy lines in recent memory from Malayalam films, that are rendered even more stale by the cold performances from the lead cast, who go about with the basic exposition with the detached sophistication of a quickly put up PowerPoint presentation. For instance, we have a man confessing over a couple of drinks about his failed marriage to his lady friend and pondering over a possible what-if situation if they had gotten married instead in their youth. The scene works on a basic scene structure level of the screenplay with some major character work being set up. 

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The basic character backgrounds and histories are set up with the hastiness of quick snippets of bullet points designed to advance each scene forward and establish some context into building tension between the group of old friends. The staging of the scene, where the primary characters start to play the most unimaginative game yet invented, somehow retraces the slightly derailed plot trajectory to some narrative balance and keeps the interest level somewhat intact. The game forms the central conceit of the entire film where we get a group of friends hesitantly forced to divulge a pathway to each own’s personal piled up private transactions and hidden identities.

Chandrasekhar (Mohanlal) is not a challenging role by any stretch of the imagination and Mohanlal sleeps walks through the interrogation and comic scenes with effortless charm. The director gives us an early glimpse of our Hercule Poirot stand in a series of poorly conceived sequences that take up much time of the first act and never works as the character could have been introduced towards the first act break as a regular outsider being thrust into their awful night. However, instead of the forced writing up major chunks in been - there - done that writing to introduce the hero as an alcoholic, nuisance set out to ruin the reunion for all parties involved. The personal stakes are virtually nonexistent for our hero, who is bound by his peculiar circumstances to take up the investigation anyway. This however is a universal template for this particular sub-genre of whodunnit thrillers, designed along the lines of the famed Agatha Christhie formulae for unravelling deep, disturbing human interactions through the device of an economically staged crime and its ensuing investigation within the same physical boundaries, where everyone is a possible killer. 

The rest of the supporting cast struggles to adapt to the swinging moods of the interlaced screenplay and rely on excessive theatrics and are at other times confined to spooky-looking close-ups by the director. Out of the array of performers in the cast, Shivada, Unni Mukundan and Chandunath show glimpses of inner life and work their way to lend some human-like attributes to the strictly one-note parts. The rest of the cast feels tonally out of place with the pitch of the movie and ends up being mute spectators in the one-man show by the leading man. The series of illicit relationships and secret transactions become too heavy on the film's narrative and at times even makes us wonder if all this was worth the crime being committed and its implications within the group. No other film in recent memory, do I remember seeing these many illicit relationship dynamics being built into the narrative as random, successive plot points with little introspection in the unexpected chains of deceit. 

Jeethu Joseph, if at all for any, should be applauded for introducing a particular aesthetic in the editing pattern of his movies, where the scene to scene segues are creatively designed and implemented to the tee! This can be dated back to his earlier and most noted works like Memories and both Dhrishyam films, where he employs airtight, innovative points of cuts to maintain a sense of visual rhythm in storytelling employing masked stitching of two distinct scene transitions that feels visually perspective in its ability to reveal information and hide character motivations. He employs this technique of frequent match cuts and stitches his flashbacks and callbacks in such a way that the movie looks and feels distinctive, even with mundane dialogue and operational exposition happening in the background.

The novelty, therefore, lies in the solid tissue that binds together a cohesive cinematic thrust to the very last frame and the film works in most parts in this regard. 

Also Read| Shekar Movie Review: Plot unpredictability doesn't even save this uncreative remake starring Rajasekher

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Check out 12th Man trailer below:


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